Review: Kenny Wheeler Quintet at The Great Northern Railway Tavern

Kenny Wheeler. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Kenny Wheeler Quintet
(Great Northern Railway Tavern, 12th February 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The warmth which suffused the stage at The Great Northern Railway Tavern came both from the flickering open fire on the far wall and from the audience, squeezed in to the pub’s tiny concert room. Aficionados, musicians, fans, and maybe a few Hornsey locals came to pay homage to that most diffident of heroes and major figure of the world jazz scene, Kenny Wheeler.

This gig had been hastily rearranged, following the closure of the Lord Rookwood, and presented him in the company of an exceptional group, with Stan Sulzmann, John Parricelli, Chris Laurence and Martin France.

They set the ball rolling with the reflective distance of ‘Kind Folk’, that had the band busy unravelling a rich seam of majestic interaction. The spotlight’s glistening reflections off Wheeler’s golden brassy flugelhorn paralleled the glowing modulation and gentle fire of his delivery. Translucency, precision and a special spark blended to give ever-changing shape to Wheeler’s lyricism.

Sulzmann was the consummate foil, unfailingly resourceful and mobile on tenor, with a singing resonance that was never overbearing. They dipped in to ‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles’, with ‘By Myself’, moody and demanding, and the energetic thrust of ‘Old Time’ had Parricelli intuitively picking the moments to land weighty chords and choppy, condensed runs with a knowing sense of balance. France was sharp, active, adaptive, changing pace and texture in line with the demands of Wheeler’s introspective yet spacious palette. Laurence padded over the strings with visible delight and deceptive speed. His lightness of touch tempered each phrase and flurry, providing a gently inventive undercurrent.

The group’s dialogue evolved around the changing dynamics of Wheeler’s compositions, but most of all, they gave the platform to Wheeler who just kept finding ways to articulate the intangible, the uncertain, the melancholic with a shimmering inward-facing confidence that used glutinous stops and hesitation to make his points with rare beauty and authority.

They afforded the utmost respect to the the momentous ‘The Long Waiting’, and dropped back to hitch on to the languid drip of ‘Lidl Waltz’ (Sulzmann made sure that the word play in the title came across). No chance they’d go without an encore – the crowd wouldn’t allow it – and they threw in a vibrant take on ‘Blue Monk’ to round off the evening to a tee.

This stroke of luck for us in N8 couldn’t have been a better advertisement for the new, musician-led series of concerts, Jazz at the Tavern.

Set list included:
‘Kind Folk’ (from ‘Angel Song’ 1997)
By Myself’ (‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles’, 1990)
Sly Eyes’ (‘Moon’, 2004)
‘Old Time’ (‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles’, 1990)
‘Lidl Waltz’ (unrecorded)
‘The Long Waiting’ (2012)
‘Blue Monk’

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. Kenny Wheeler fans might be interested in the BBC Radio Ulster 'Jazz Club' broadcast this week in which Norma Winstone talks in fascinating detail about their new album with London Vocal Choir/Pete Churchill, 'Mirrors', which is about to be released on Edition Records.

    It's at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qqs75 and can be accessed through 'Listen Again' this week only.


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